Letters to the Editor

Friday September 17, 2004


Editors, Daily Planet: 

Customer service is difficult even under the best circumstances. Being a police officer combines the worst parts of customer service with threats to their very lives from belligerent reporters. To a reporter, whose business seems to consist mainly of invading private matters, a rude response to her persistent demands for public safety information is intolerable. To a police officer busy making sure that nobody can tell if his fellow officers are following their own rules, such an intrusion into police business is likewise intolerable. Balancing the “public’s right to know” with the “blue wall of silence” is an impossible task. Let us take a few moments to recognize all the positive services police officers provide in a civilized society, from escorting criminals to jail to beating social deviants, from harassing young people of color to enforcing the property relations of capitalism. Cops have much more important things to do beside giving raw information from a crime scene to a reporter before all the other officers involved have had a chance to get their stories straight.  

C. Boles 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

Sam Ferguson, co-chair of Yes on H, writes in your Sept. 3 edition that public financing of candidates for city offices in Berkeley and limitations on spending will “make elected officials more responsive,” “increase the diversity of candidates,” and even “help ensure that [the city’s budget] is spent according to the wishes of the community.” Only one of these claims is valid. 

Public financing of elections will certainly increase the diversity of candidates—it will require all of us to pay for candidates who are not qualified to hold public office or endorse positions we disagree with. City funds may have to be spent to support the campaign of an anti-Semitic, racist homophobe! 

Public financing of elections coupled with campaign spending limits will make elected officials (incumbents) less, not more responsive to the community. Incumbents will no longer have to make sure they have a broad and deep enough base of support to raise enough funds for their re-election. Instead, they will be able to get campaign funds from the taxpayer regardless of how unpopular or out of touch they are. Applying the same spending limits to incumbents as to challengers will make it almost impossible for challengers to overcome the inherent advantage of incumbency in elections, further reducing the need of incumbents to be responsive to their constituents. To truly level the playing field, only incumbents should be subject to campaign spending limits—but try to get that one past city hall. 

Finally to claim that city election financing will increase budgetary accountability is a non-sequitur. This measure will earmark city tax revenues for campaign financing, reducing the amount of money city officials can allocate for other city programs, thereby reducing their responsibility and accountability for budgeting funds. 

For these reasons, I hope Measure H is defeated. 

Keith Winnard 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

Last week Barbara Gilbert attacked me here for writing an op-ed piece of which I was not the author. As the byline made clear, the article was by Dave Blake, vice-chair of the Zoning Board, on which I also sit. 

The article concerned the placement of affordable housing units in new construction in Berkeley, in particular in the proposed downtown Seagate Building on Center Street. The gist of Gilbert’s complaint was: “While we ordinary middle-class folks pay through the nose to live in Berkeley, poor people are entitled to luxury ownership accommodations at the expense of taxpayers and a lower-density livable Berkeley.” 

For 15 years every city in California has been required by state law to provide a variety of strong incentives for the creation of affordable housing. We are required to loosen development standards, such as parking requirements, open-space requirements, and height limits, significantly for any building that provides a minimum percentage of affordable units. Most of all we have to increase the allowable number of units per acre for any such project by 25 percent. 

The principle involved in these state mandates is that without incentives developers would fail to create any new housing for low and moderate income citizens. Berkeley taxpayers don’t pay for these incentives with either local or state taxes: they are exchanged for whatever effect the relaxation of the development standards has. Whether these effects, in particular the increased density, are bad or good is a subject of great debate. What’s not debatable is whether or not we have to let them be built. That’s the law. 

Blake wrote about a further requirement in Berkeley law, that affordable units be spread out throughout each project. Staff has routinely granted requests to keep the highest, and most valued, floors of new projects free of affordable units: Blake felt that creating high-income enclaves is just the flip side of sequestering the poor in low-income enclaves, and that this law shouldn’t be treated as a relaxable development standard but as social policy. 

The project is still under consideration. I’ve proposed that the developer not be required to provide a strictly equal percentage of affordable units, but that the units be more equally dispersed through the project, with at least one on every floor. 

Laurie Capitelli 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

As a John Muir Elementary parent, I just wanted to thank you guys for writing about the test score blunder. Our wonderful principal is very dedicated and she deserves a lot of credit. Even when the bad news came out, she supported her staff 100 percent. There was not any finger pointing which says a lot about the character of the school. As you know, test scores are important in attracting those students that live in the area and have other options. Over the last few years, John Muir has been on an upswing thanks in part to Ms Waters and a wonderful staff. As a John Muir and BUSD alumni, I am proud to send my children to such a great school. Thanks Again!  

Diana Yovino-Young  




Editors, Daily Planet: 

Two new buildings that are a block apart on University Avenue can teach us a lesson about traditional and modernist architecture. The five-story building on University at Shattuck is in a traditional style similar to the 19th-century Italianate style, with an asymmetrical tower, red tile roof, and ornamental tiling in the arches above the windows. Though its design is distinctive, it fits into its surroundings, because its stucco and red tiles are common materials in nearby buildings and because it is painted a modest tan. Even when you see it over the one-story building to its west, it looks as if it has been there for ever.  

The five-story building on University near Milvia is in a modernist style. Because it has no traditional ornament, the architect tries hard to make it distinctive by giving it bay windows set at an odd angle, large expanses of natural wood siding, and two colors of paint on its stucco, with tan on some facades and garish red on others. It looks like an intruder in the neighborhood. When you see it over the over the one-story building to its west, its wood siding and red stucco stick out like a sore thumb.  

These two buildings make an important theoretical point about modern architecture. Early modernists said that architecture should be an honest expression of function, without artificial ornamentation. But boxes without ornamentation soon became boring, and now modernists seem to be willing to do anything to be different: the angled bay windows, wood siding, and two-tone paint job at University and Milvia are mannerisms that are much more artificial than the traditional design at University and Shattuck. 

There is no theoretical reason for using this mannered style of modernism rather than traditional architectural styles.  

Even if developers do not care about the theoretical issue, they should care about this practical issue: there obviously would be much less opposition to development if the new buildings were traditional architecture that looks like it belongs in its context, rather than modernist architecture that looks like a garish intruder.  

Charles Siegel 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

While I applaud Michael D. Miller’s goal of reducing contention and negativism in the Board of Education race and in the Berkeley High community as a whole, I cannot say I was as reassured as he apparently wished me to be by his column (“Us vs. Them!” Daily Planet, Sept. 10-13). 

Referring to candidates as “school reform advocates” instead of “small school advocates,” as Mr. Miller would have us do, would seem to be another case of the use of semantics to obscure rather than clarify, if those candidates believe, as Mr. Miller does that, “the small schools reform movement at BHS is the only significant movement designed to realize [success for all students]”.  

Mr. Miller also says, “If there are other viable solutions for broad student success in our district, bring them forward so that our entire community will benefit.” As he is well aware, there is a program in the large, comprehensive BHS high school which enjoys great support among parents, students and staff (along with a sizable number of critics). It is Academic Choice which—while not styling itself as a reform movement—does aim to increase academic excellence in the school as a whole via academically rigorous classes, open to all students without prerequisite, and by recruitment and support of students of color in those classes. People who support Academic Choice believe that the goal of “success for all students” can be furthered by increasing the offerings of Advanced Placement (not offered in small schools) and other classes with curricula that will prepare students for success in four-year colleges, and then increasing the number and diversity of students taking those classes.  

Small school reform advocates originally proposed that BHS become all small schools. The superintendent appointed a Small Schools Advisory Committee, representing a cross section of views, which ultimately recommended a mixed structure with 50 percent of students enrolled in several small schools and 50 percent of students enrolled in a large, comprehensive school. This compromise, approved by the Board of Education, rightly recognized, in my opinion, that the real benefits conveyed by small schools involve tradeoffs, and that while many students may prefer and be best served by small schools, others prefer and are best served by large schools. No one that I know is in favor of eliminating small schools at BHS or opposed to continuing the plan to add new small schools until the small school enrollment reaches 50 percent of the BHS total. But there does seem to be a number of small school advocates who would like to terminate the Academic Choice program. 

There is no question that Academic Choice needs to be improved, with respect to its diversity and in other respects as well. It is an important piece in the overall program of the large high school which is in danger of being neglected as energy is focused on small schools. At present, there is an unprecedented number of Academic Choice parents and students willing and eager to involve themselves in the process of redefining and improving the program, not only for their own benefit but for the school as a whole. Speaking as one of those parents, all I ask of School Board candidates and of BUSD and BHS administrators is the opportunity for the Academic Choice community to develop this program from within and to prove that it is not a move toward greater segregation but, properly implemented, a force to reduce the achievement gap. I am not against anybody, I am for Academic Choice. Choice is also a Berkeley value. 

Marilyn Boucher 

Parent, Academic Choice Student, Class of 2006 

2004-05 BHS School Site Council Member 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

“Public Access To City Info Not Always Available” (Daily Planet, Sept. 14-16)—for sure! Alas, there are likely examples galore. Here’s another: HUD consultant Ronnie Odom (MDStrum Housing Services) delivered his review report to the Berkeley Housing Authority and—although there was insufficient public notice of the meeting—to the Berkeley citizenry at a 2 p.m. May 7 “special meeting.” It has been virtually impossible for members of the public, including BHA tenants, to access a copy of Odom’s full report. Those who persevered were ultimately able to view and or receive a brief document titled “Summary of SEMAP Related Issues.” I was approached as an accessible former BHA Section 8 tenant representative (the position is yet again vacant) and housing advocate; my phone call to BHA Manager Sharon Jackson was not returned. When I broached this matter with Housing Department Director Stephen Barton, he suggested that the title of what a tenant had sought had not been specified! One tenant informed me that when he asked for the full document, he was told tersely, “this is what is being given out.” Another constituent was informed that “only city documents” can be shared, and that this was/is a HUD document! It is notable that this document was not made available at the Berkeley Public Library reference desk as major city documents normally are. 

Helen Rippier Wheeler 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

There are seven weeks left before the “most important election of our lifetime.” I have never been involved in voter registration or much involved in electoral politics in the past. I, like many of my friends, have given some money and time to influence the election this year. Over the last few weeks, I have felt frightened and at times despairing about a Bush victory. What I realized is that whatever the outcome, I want to feel that I gave as much in money and time as I could. So I just contributed more than I ever thought I would and am contacting every friend and relative I can think of to help register new voters in swing states. I’m still scared by a Bush re-election and his policies. I’m no hero, but I’m doing more of what I know I can. The election remains very close in the swing states. Please join me in whatever way you can, donating time or money to ACT4Victory.org, ReDefeatBush.org, Moveon.org, etc. 

David Stark 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

Today at about 3:45 p.m. there was a large, shirtless, obviously drunk man standing out in front of my store front at 1959 Shattuck Ave., yelling insults at people as they came and went from my gallery, GravityFeed. I called the Berkeley Guides instead of the police and they, in a quick, non-violent, non-humiliating way were able to find this man some direction to a nice cool place to sleep off what was going to be a very uncomfortable alcohol binge. 

I just wanted to thank and give recognition to our local heroes, the Berkeley Guides. They really did a great job! 

Thanks a lot guys, we at the GravityFeed are glad you’re here! 

James Lane  




Editors, Daily Planet: 

Reading the Planet’s coverage of recent controversies at Berkeley High, one might well get the impression that there is an unbridgeable chasm separating advocates of small schools from advocates of Academic Choice. In fact, the gap is not nearly so wide as the divisive rhetoric used by some proponents and critics of Academic Choice would make it appear. As a parent of a BHS senior and of another child who will be entering Berkeley High School next year, I have participated in both the small schools and the Academic Choice communities. Most people I have met in both communities want equity and academic excellence. There is no reason to treat these goals as mutually exclusive. To open up opportunities for success to every child at BHS and to hold every student, teacher, and program to an appropriately high standard or even to make substantial progress towards this goal will take a variety of approaches and a lot of hard work. Let’s not waste our energy vilifying one other. 

Carol S. Lashof 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

Once again, thanks to the Daily Planet for placing the Willard landscaping controversy in context. Frankly, having lived this long with the stark ugliness of the current Willard architecture, I had actually forgotten that it was a choice over retrofitting/renovating the former, far more attractive, building. I do, however, well remember how it sat, looking ever more like a neglected penitentiary, until the Willard Greening Project came along. (The reader who blamed that group for ignoring and destroying some earlier parent efforts was, I believe, well-intentioned but misinformed. The abysmal soil on the site could not support plants without major amending and mulching, and most of the plants had died before the current efforts began. As for the justifiably lamented red-flowering eucalyptus—which I, too, loved—it was the BUSD that had it cut down: they said the seed capsules clogged drains and caused flooding, and it may be true.) 

When the Greening Project began, it was to fly in the face of the neglect that had prevailed, and it was indeed in a joyous and participatory mode. People were willing to work hard, solicit donations, make up for district lack of funds—and frankly, of interest. If the district had been willing to respect those efforts and use what human and dollar resources they did have to work with the Greening Project to fine-tune and help maintain Willard, I believe that would have been a prudent and frugal way to achieve something lush and beautiful while solving some of the problems that did evolve. 

Instead, they chose to trade years of ignoring the site for a sudden massive, extremely expensive version of throwing out the baby with the bath water. And those who knew and really cared about the garden were shut out of the process arrogantly, intentionally and almost entirely. 

Now, having “paved the way” for yet more (!) concrete, but having removed the giant tractor after a community outcry, the district claims it is going to meet with the Greening Project to decide what to do next. Yet I ran into Yolanda Huang recently, and she said that no such meeting had been scheduled, or anyway she hadn’t heard of it.  

If and when they begin such a process, there might be hope for the long path to something in the front of Willard School we could all care about and be proud of.  

I’m not holding my breath. 

Donna Mickleson 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

A series of articles in the San Francisco Chronicle document how neighbors along the 1700 block of Quesada Avenue have reduced garbage, blight and crime by over 60 percent through planting a community garden. But it’s not the garden, it’s the gardners! It works in Chicago, it works in San Francisco, and it has worked at Willard Middle School. Willard had the reputation as the toughest middle school in Berkeley. When I first started the garden at Willard in 1992, everything was blamed on the students. Dead plants were blamed on students, who allegedly stomped them in their rage. The fear of student violence was pervasive. I was warned never to garden alone after school hours. I was instructed that nothing could be in the garden which could be picked up and used as a weapon. No garden stakes were allowed. Kids weren’t allowed to have yo-yos, because that was a projectile. For the first years, every child with a shovel had to be carefully watched. Graffiti was standard school décor. One teacher characterized Willard as a place of “low institutional self-esteem.” 

Anyone who works with Willard now knows that this has completely changed. The students in the cooking class use knives daily, safely and appropriately. And one mother with a tenth-grader who graduated from Willard, told me that her son loves to cook vegetables with her, because he likes the chopping and the slicing, skills he learned at Willard. Despite the fact that the Willard Greening Project is on Telegraph Avenue, without fences, and with all the problems that Telegraph has, we have never had a plant vandalized, and had only one plant stolen in 12 years. 

The outpouring of support for Willard is for more than the mere plants. It is for more than just the space. It is for the years of community, built through the regular work around the gardening and cooking program which is the Willard Greening Project. Due to these programs, community members, parents, and the kids, go the extra step for the school, and the school and community benefit in return. Because school board members and district staff rarely come around to school, have never volunteered in our project, and because they don’t live and walk in our community, they aren’t aware of the invisible glue that is an important part of our community. 

It has been a month since the tractor trashed our garden. I and other community members look forward to meeting with the school district, and hope that the garden can be repaired and replanted before the rainy season begins. 

Yolanda Huang 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

Please will somebody take a look at the Harrison’s House backyard garden. They have laid off the gardner that turned a swamp into a place of tranquility for homeless people to meditate and get in tune with nature and God when they’re only allowed to return to the shelter at 5 p.m. daily whether they are sick, dealing with bad weather, at 8 a.m. they have to go. Take a look at the garden Nancy Jordan had created and now they have laid the gardnener off and building a $1.5 million building next door. We need all the help we can get to get the gardner back as soon as possible. Take a look a the lawns Jordan wanted. They are dying and she’s been trying to maintain them Please write boona cheema or the City Council. Maybe even the new mayor of Berkeley. Phyllis has been helping, but she is overwhelmed with multiple managerial tasks. Send donations to BOSS/Payroll or BOSS/Admin. Let’s work together to save Harrison House’s gardener.  

Ollie Daniels 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

Go Away Blank Family! 

There was once a man named Jerome Blank, a local real estate developer in Albany, who owned so many properties and was involved in so much local wheeling and dealing, that he was given the nickname Mr. Albany.  

In the ‘60s, Mr. Albany fought to have the Safeway on Solano Ave. built promising nearby residents that there would no negative effects such as garbage or parking problems. Fast-forward 40 years to 2004 and you can see neighbors griping as they pick up debris that blows in their yards from the aging supermarket. To make matters worse, Safeway only cleans up the garbage on the sidewalk, leaving the trash that falls in the gutter to the whims of the wind and rain. 

Safeway employees, afraid to park in the employee parking lot due to break-ins, park in front of local residents’ homes, resulting in homeowners having to park wherever they can find a place. 

Now the ghost of Mr. Albany is back to destroy the quality of life again in the vicinity of 1530 Solano Ave., where his greedy heirs own an office building. The Blank Family Trust is negotiating with Nextel and Metro PCS to locate nine telecommunication antennas endangering health and lowering property values of nearby residents. 

The City of Albany’s environmental department recently issued what is known as a mitigated negative declaration. The findings were that the nine antennas would have no environmental impact at all to nearby residents. Consultants hired and paid by Nextel and MetroPCS did a study that demonstrated that the project would meet FCC regulations. Does the phrase, “conflict of interest” come to mind? 

Since these antennas are to be located not too far from my house, I decided to do a little research of my own. Nine cellular antennas! No environmental impact! “Something smells fishy,” I thought. 

Although not a scientist by profession, I had friends who provided links to research on the subject of EMF exposure. After reading several abstracts which dealt with the subject of potential negative health effects of living near cellular antennas, came to following conclusion: The research to date on the ill effects of exposure to EMFs is at best inconclusive. However, the following can be said with absolute certainty. 

1) Cell phone radiation can cause DNA damage! However, it is unclear if your body can repair DNA damage without mutating genes? 

2) Recent U.S. studies are showing more significant bio-effects at lower and lower power densities. Dr. Henry Lai has reported DNA single and double strand breaks at levels below the current FCC exposure standard. Magras & Xenos have reported irreversible sterility in mice after five generations of exposure to .168 to 1.053 microwatts per square centimeter in an “antenna park.” 

I could go on and on but the simple fact is that verdict is still not out on EMF exposure even if that exposure falls within the current FCC guidelines. 

It should be clear to Albany residents familiar with local history that what is good for the Blank family is probably not good for them! 

I would be grateful to hear from anyone or any group who has had experience and success in fighting these invasive projects.  

Steve Pinto 





Editors, Daily Planet: 

For the sake of humanity, when will the human race wake up to the realization that there are hundreds of religious faiths in this world that know that the God they worship is the one and only true God? And will they ever stop slaughtering each other over which God is True?  

There are hundreds of millions of people in this world that believe in the Christian religion, and that the God they worship is “The One and Only True God.” How can that many people be wrong? 

There are hundreds of millions of people in this world that believe that Allah is “The One and Only True God.” How can those millions of people all be wrong? 

Then, there are hundreds of millions of Hindus in this world that believe that Krishna is “The One and Only True God.” Can that many people be suffering under a delusion? 

Then, there are hundreds of millions that profess that Buda is “The One and Only True God.” Again, can that many people be wrong? 

Then of course, there are millions of other faiths that have a lock on God, along with the tens of thousands of beliefs that have come and gone since mankind first started thinking about the “Spiritual World.”  

Religious conflict is one of the greatest causes of suffering in this world today, and has been for centuries. 

Will mankind have to wipe itself off the face of the earth before the conflict is over? The world seems to be gaining the ability and coming closer to that solution every day. 

Warren Ogren 





Editors, Daily Planet: 

Is it just the money folks? Is it OK to prostitute yourself for dinners, jewels, jobs? And, of course, we all wink at the ads for special massages. What a waste of time, money, and pretended morality! Wouldn’t it be great if all so-called “perverts,” such as prostitutes, homosexuals, even drug users, were all “closeted”! We wouldn’t have to spend all those millions on our noble wars against revolutionary evils like pandering, gay-marriage, or medical marijuana! Just think, law enforcement could spend those resources chasing real criminals instead!  

Gerta Farber 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

I greatly enjoy Ron Sullivan’s articles about trees as well as your other writer’s pieces about the various fauna and flora with which we share this corner of the world. However I think Sullivan’s article on poor tree pruning did not go far enough. While she is correct about the basics of pruning, we should note that the problems which may befall a tree often begin much earlier.  

Many trees are planted with the thought “how fast will it grow?” with the desire for quick screening, privacy or shade as paramount. Often the tree that provides rapid growth and the desired results in five years will become a problem in 10 years. Frequently trees are planted where they will never achieve their natural size and form if they are too close to structures, paving or property lines. Over-large trees planted where they shade out a neighbor’s yard, perhaps also reducing access to solar energy, or create a fire hazard for the tree’s owner or neighbors can become a bone of contention and can create bad feelings all around.  

If you are going to plant a tree please consider what the tree needs to be successful. Will it have enough room in 50 years not just in five? Are its requirements for sun, water and space compatible with your yard and the adjoining properties? Will it be on top of sub-surface utilities or under power lines? Does it create a fire hazard? Most conifers, eucalyptus and acacias are not only fast growing but can be explosively flammable. Keeping hazardous plants away from structures is a must; it may well keep fire from getting in, it can keep fire from getting out as well.  

Most of Berkeley is closely developed with relatively small lots, yet big trees usually need big spaces. If your lot is small and your neighbors close, a smaller tree may provide all you want and still be in scale with Berkeley’s pattern of development. Additionally it should not tempt one to perform major amputations on it. If needed, quick screening may be achieved with fast growing shrubs while a choice but slower growing tree gains size and stature. Careful siting and selection of these major landscape investments is the best defense against an incompetently wielded chainsaw.  

Michael Farrell